Nelson at NAC meeting
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said at a March 1 meeting of the NASA Advisory Council that it was continuing normal operations of the space station even as his Russian counterpart threatened to withdraw from the partnership. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

LOGAN, Utah — NASA Administrator Bill Nelson says the agency has “gotten what we need” from an authorization bill that became law Aug. 9.

President Joe Biden signed into law the CHIPS and Science Act during a White House ceremony. The bill, primarily intended to stimulate domestic production of semiconductors, included the first NASA authorization act in more than five years. Its provisions featured support for NASA’s exploration programs and a formal extension of International Space Station operations to 2030.

Biden briefly mentioned the NASA portion of the bill in remarks at the ceremony. “Right now, as Bill can tell you,” he said, referring to Nelson, who was in attendance, “NASA has a mission: going back to the moon, and then to Mars, the sun and beyond, capturing images of distant galaxies we could only once dream existed and we could never think we could see.”

Shortly after the signing ceremony, Nelson told members of the NASA Advisory Council he was satisfied with the bill. “In our NASA authorization, we have basically gotten what we need,” he said.

“The authorization gives us things that we have sought for years,” he said at the council’s Aug. 9 meeting, such as the ISS extension. He also mentioned “little nits and nats” in the bill, such as a long-term extension of the agency’s authority to enter into enhanced use lease agreements of agency facilities with companies and organizations.

Nelson said he is turning his attention to the ongoing fiscal year 2023 appropriations process. NASA requested nearly $26 billion for 2023, a level matched by a draft bill released by Democratic leadership of the Senate Appropriations Committee July 28. A House bill approved by appropriators in June provides NASA with about half a billion dollars less than the request. “Appropriations is always a struggle,” he said.

Nelson did not discuss details of the appropriations process but expressed hope that a final 2023 spending bill could be enacted before the end of the year. “There is a convergence of interests in the Senate,” he said, citing the retirements at the end of the current Congress of Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “I think there is some synergy there to want to get this thing wrapped up.”

Even with the outcome of the fiscal year 2023 appropriations process uncertain, Nelson said the agency is working with the White House’s Office of Management and Budget on its fiscal year 2024 budget request that will be released next February.

“I had a few conversations down at the White House today,” he said of the ongoing work on the 2024 budget. “That’s what’s going on in the meantime.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...